Traditional Chinese New Year cuisine in Malaysia

Ethnic Chinese communities in Malaysia still continue to celebrate the lunar new year in the same traditional ways of their ancestral homeland.

Traditional Chinese New Year cuisine is one of them. Different Chinese subgroups have different dishes with different significances. How much do you know about the origins of different customary Chinese New Year cuisine in Malaysia? Let’s explore the essence of Chinese New Year cuisine for different Chinese subgroups.

The Teochew:

Braised duck, braised pork knuckles, braised large intestines, braised eggs and others – collectively referred to as braised dishes – are all indispensable dishes for the Teochew during reunion dinner.

In the Teochew dialect, braised dried bean curd sounds like the words used to refer to an official, and it is also a must-have dish for the Teochew.

The Teochew also love to eat fish and generally believe that you will enjoy prosperity after consuming fish.

The Hokkien

On Chinese New Year eve, the Hokkien will enjoy “stir-fried thick noodles”, which in Chinese carries the meaning of longevity. In addition, the Hokkien will also consume fried clams on this day. In ancient times, clam shells were used as currency and as such when eaten, represent wealth.

In Hokkien Chinese New Year cuisine, the dishes carry the significance of good intentions, such as meat rolls called “Five Blessings”. The five blessings implied are, “longevity, wealth, health, virtue and peaceful passing” which are considered to be the components of a perfect life.

The Cantonese

The Cantonese are especially concerned with significance and when preparing Chinese New Year dishes, most will adopt homonyms of auspicious words. For example; chicken (carries the meaning of having a plan), lettuce (carries the meaning of having wealth) and bean curd (carries the meaning of being rich).

The Cantonese will also cook more dishes for Chinese New Year eve dinner and save the leftovers for the next day to symbolize an “annual surplus”.

Another favourite Cantonese Chinese New Year dish is Waxed Meat Rice. The dish symbolizes the wisdom of ancient ancestors of the Cantonese. In the olden days, they knew how to store meat in a clever way without refrigeration technology, and they also knew how to wax the meat and marinate it and then prepare a delicious meal with it.

The Hakka

Diligence and thriftiness are virtues of the Hakka people. In preparing dishes for the Chinese New Year, these virtues are reflected through the simplicity of the ingredients and they are careful not to waste anything. Hakka stuffed tofu, preserved mustard tea rice and Hakka deep-fried pork belly are also indispensable delicacies for Chinese New Year.

The Hakka also enjoy dishes with auspicious meaning, such as Hakka yam abacus seeds which carries the significance of planning everyday and creating wealth.

The Hainanese

An indispensable Chinese New Year dish for the Hainanese is Hainanese chicken rice. They make round balls of rice that symbolizes family reunion. The Hainanese tend to observe vegetarianism on the first day of the lunar new year so they cook vegetables, soy-based fish and other meats in a single pot that carries the significance of “family happiness”, and also family reunion, harmony, wealth and prosperity. It can be eaten for several days in a row during family celebrations. It can be said the more you eat, the more delicious it tastes.